© 2022 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Letitia James' run for governor of New York sets up a Democratic Primary. Who is she?

New York Attorney General and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Letitia James
From Letitia James' campaign announcement video for governor
/
New York Attorney General and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Letitia James

Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, formally announced her campaign to be New York’s next governor Friday, setting up a primary between her, current Governor Kathy Hochul and any other Democrat who jumps in the race.

James made the announcement through the release of a new video, and a website to promote her run, which had been rumored in New York’s political circles for months.

“I’ve spent my career guided by a simple principle. Stand up to the powerful, on behalf of the vulnerable — to be a force for change,” James says in the video.

James has had a meteoric rise in state politics, rising to higher office after former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abruptly resigned over several claims of sexual misconduct.

She started her political career in the New York City Council, where she represented part of Brooklyn for nearly a decade. She was the first member of the Working Families Party, a left-side political party, to win office in New York.

She then went on to become New York City Public Advocate, a position that essentially acts as a citywide representative of the people. She won that race in 2013, and was reelected in 2017.

Months later, when Schneiderman resigned, James announced her intention to become the state’s next attorney general, and Democrats — including former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — quickly rallied behind her.

After a contentious primary, James won that election in 2018, replacing Barbara Underwood, the state solicitor general who was selected to serve in the role temporarily before the election.

Since James was elected as the state’s top lawyer, there have been rumors that she would seek the governorship at some point, but no one knew when.

James had been careful to dance around a potential run in public in recent years, while she weighed an opportunity for the governorship.

Then, a major political door opened when Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment by several woman, some of which were former aides in his office. But, at the start of those scandals, it was unclear if Cuomo would survive the controversies.

When the first claims were made public, Cuomo agreed to allow James’ office to investigate those allegations. At the time, he was confident that he would be exonerated. James was previously a close Cuomo ally.

Then, James issued a groundbreaking report that found several claims of sexual harassment made against the governor to be credible. He resigned within days of the report's release.

At that point, James still hadn’t made a solid decision on whether she’d run, and congratulated now-Governor Kathy Hochul on her ascension to the governorship. Talk of her run started to heat up in recent weeks, and several media outlets reported this week that she had made a decision.

Now, James will face off in a primary election next year against Hochul and current New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, unless either drops out of the race. Others, like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, are also considering a run.

That’s because, for the first time in a decade, the seat is essentially open following Cuomo’s resignation.

In her video announcing her candidacy, James pointed to several parts of her work as attorney general, but highlighted her report that brought the Cuomo administration to an end.

“I’ve held accountable those who mistreat and harass women in the workplace, no matter the offenders,” James said.

She’s had a busy tenure as attorney general, particularly because of the Trump administration. The White House, at the time, made several decisions that James’ office challenged in court — and often won.

It was her office that partnered with civil rights organizations to sue the Trump administration over its decision to ask about citizenship on the 2020 U.S. Census. Her office won that case, and the census did not include a question about immigration status.

She has sued the National Rifle Association, seeking to dissolve the organization. That litigation is ongoing.

But things haven’t always worked out in her favor. Her office sued ExxonMobil for allegedly defrauding investors over the company’s plans for climate change. The energy giant ended up winning that case.

James’ candidacy has already been the subject of criticism by some Democrats, namely Cuomo, who claims she ousted him through her report to open the door for her own run for governor. James has denied that the report was politically motivated.

And Jay Jacobs, the chair of the state Democratic Party, endorsed Hochul for the governorship this month, urging other Democrats to stay out of the race and pool their resources together for next year’s general election.

The primary election for the Democratic nomination will be held next June.